12 September 2017

Liberia: 'We Own but Don't Control Liberia'

Photo: Liberian Observer
Alexander B. Cummings: "...I want to demand more of ourselves and demand more of the people to whom we give state power."

Liberians are people who are proud of their country and always want to show ownership but it is an unfortunate irony that they don't control what goes on in the country and as such they have always felt powerless and therefore frustrated. The standard bearer of the Alternative National Congress, Alexander B. Cummings, made this remark last weekend during an exclusive interview with the Daily Observer.

He was speaking in reference to country's economy, the most powerful sector of any country, practically being controlled by foreigners. "It is unfortunate that Liberians own but don't control their country. If you own, you must control and the only way that can apply to Liberia is getting Liberians to own the economy. I have always said that Liberians are spectators to their country's economy, and this shouldn't be so," he said.

To address this unfortunate situation, Mr. Cummings declared that upon taking state power following the ensuing October 10 elections, the ANC will institute measures to decisively implement what the ANC intends to do. Upon taking state power he said the first measure would be to robustly invest in Liberian businesses. "Liberians do not have the resources, the facilities and the infrastructure to compete successfully against foreign business people who control the economy," he said.

Cummings said Liberians love to feel like they are proprietors of their country, but they are not. "We pride ourselves and we want to control and own it, but you cannot own something you do not have," he said. The ANC political leaders alluded to the fact that Liberia is a country where the citizens are either poor or rich, and the vast majority of Liberians are poor.

To change this status quo, Cummings noted that his government will empower, engage and vigorously monitor Liberian businesses. He added that the government also needs to enforce the Liberianization policy, "but not just that, we need to facilitate and enable Liberian businesses to grow. We will provide credit facilities to all businesses, but especially Liberian businesses."

One segment of the economy that has the potential to grow a Liberian middle class is the import business, and Cummings noted that this is where his government would encourage Liberians to take advantage of.

"We will get Liberians engaged in the importation business, which is one of the vibrant sectors of the economy. We will provide them the money and the technical skills to get involved in this sector," he insisted. "The import business is just basic arithmetic. We will introduce Liberians to international suppliers, so that they can actively partake in their economy."

Apart from the foreign control of the economy, Mr Cummings also observed that what belongs to the country is benefiting a very few individuals. "Too many Liberians are suffering in the midst of abundance in their homeland, and our leaders have not been able to evenly distribute the national wealth for all to have their share," he said.

The country's leaders have failed to create an enabling environment for self-determination for the Liberian people, especially the young people, Mr Cummings averred.

He indicated that Liberians should believe in not just the country, but the citizenry as well. "Liberians should believe in themselves as a people. We don't have any doubt about our abilities to change our country. Many Liberians have had many politicians promise them many things, but these promises did not come to fruition. Many do believe that our current condition is our fate, but I don't accept that. I want us to believe in ourselves, in our country and I also want us to believe that we deserve a better Liberia; and we can and must have a better Liberia," he declared. This will take only a good leadership to accomplish, Mr. Cummings stated.

"I have always believed that when you look around us, we Liberians are not any less smart and we don't work any less harder than people of other African countries and people around the world. But, their countries are more developed than ours, so I want to demand more of ourselves and demand more of the people to whom we give state power."

Infrastructure the Bedrock

The ANC standard bearer said that Liberia's development and prosperity are hinged on the rapid improvement of its infrastructure. This will be the bedrock of anything that an ANC led government will do, he noted.

"The fastest way to fix the country's infrastructure is to attract investors whom we can engage in Public, Private Partnerships (PPPs). We believe that by attracting investors to invest in infrastructure, Liberia will develop rapidly. This is just the fastest way to do it. At the end of the day, Liberians just want good roads. They just want to have electricity and running water in their homes every day. If we can use private money to do that and we pay over time, I think Liberians will be receptive to the idea. If we want to try to do it on our own it will just take too long.

"If one wants to build a first class hospital and you are running it on a generator, it would be a complete disaster for you because a consistent clear energy is needed to run a hospital.

"If we want to invest in agriculture substantially, which we intend to do, our farmers need vibrant road connectivity to bring their produce to the markets," he said.

Cummings noted that infrastructure is fundamental, "because it would help adequately absorb our labor force which is beset by an unimaginable level of unemployment. All these things are related and infrastructure stands at the center or is the fulcrum of all these. We will start off with this plan right away." He said that in the first 100 days, the ANC administration will start discussions on identifying these investors. He also said that his government will build on what is already there, adding "We will not just change things for change sake. The National Investment Commission has done a lot of work on PPPs. So we need to start with that and see what they have done, build on it and accelerate that."

Growing the National Budget

During the first debate among presidential candidates in August, Cummings, a former executive of Coca-Cola International, said that it is possible to raise the national budget to US$2 billion. This created a lot of conversation across the country, with many saying that this is not possible. But Mr. Cummings defended his comments during the interview with the Daily Observer.

"We just have to take some concrete steps and make some tangible moves. As a priority, we will make sure our macroeconomic, monetary and administrative policies are business friendly; we will de-complicate our policies. This will help us to grow the private sector--and as a result we will create more jobs, and more taxes will be paid.

"My government will take steps effectively to reduce waste in government and redeploy resources in the productive sector. There is a lot of waste in government, among these are excessive travels, the expensive cars, and the perks. Look, the mere fact that 103 people in the National Legislature take about US$40 million of our national budget of US$600 million makes the government ineffective, especially looking at how our people are living. We can reduce how much they take and redistribute that. By definition, this will be an economic stimulus by itself. We need to take the money out of the hands of few and put it in the hands of many, it will stimulate the economy.

This will help us to generate the revenue, it will grow the economy, it will grow the revenue base. Government could make more money from natural resources by reinforcing the existing agreements and implementing these to the fullest. I don't think government gets full value of the gold and diamonds we are exporting out of this country. If we get our share value of these it would help grow our budget. These are all the things that we will do that will cumulatively grow our revenue base. I really want us to think about how we can grow our economy and not how we can keep distributing the same money. Our aspiration as a country should be how to grow our economy because it comes with enormous benefits."

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